Subban Trade Bait: Who Will Bite?

Since the Nashville Predators’ season ended, P.K. Subban’s name has been circulated in trade rumors. This isn’t the first time the defenseman’s future in Nashville has been called into question. Last offseason he was mentioned in rumors, as well, although general manager Ray Shero quickly shut those down. This time, however, it feels different. Shero hasn’t silenced the speculation, and after a quick exit from the postseason, it’s not difficult to entertain a potential Subban trade.

Reasons to Trade Subban

Pretty much every reason the Predators should entertain trading Subban is rooted in something other than his play. On the ice he remains arguably the Predators’ best two-way defenseman. However, his $9 million cap hit, which extends through 2021-22, is problematic. And that has little to do with his age (he recently turned 30) or how he’ll perform for the remainder of the contract. Rather, it has more to do with how his contract affects the team’s ability to structure the roster as a whole.

PK Subban Predators
P.K. Subban could be on the way out this summer. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Predators currently have just under $2.7 million in cap space for next season before the projected cap increase occurs. From now through the article’s conclusion, every time I mention a team’s cap space for 2019-20, it doesn’t factor in any cap increase. That amount is not enough for the Predators to make necessary moves that include re-signing Rocco Grimaldi, Colton Sissons, and potentially Brian Boyle.

Related: 7 Things About P.K. Subban

They’ll also be able to extend Roman Josi on July 1, and he’ll be looking to more than double his current $4 million cap hit. Furthermore, before Subban’s contract expires, the team will have to handle potential extensions for Filip Forsberg, Mikael Granlund, Calle Järnkrok, Mattias Ekholm, and Juuse Saros. Therefore, ridding themselves of Subban’s salary would have benefits, both now and in the future.

A big reason they should trade Subban is Dante Fabbro. Fabbro turned pro near the end of the regular season, appeared in four games down the stretch, and dressed for all six playoff games. He played on the third pair with Dan Hamhuis and never looked out of place, even scoring a goal in the regular season and posting an assist in the postseason. His emergence made one thing clear: he shouldn’t be on the bottom pair next season. He’s too good, deserves more ice time, and his skillset is ideal for a top-four role. However, with the Predators already possessing arguably the league’s best top-four, Fabbro can’t exactly kick one of them out, which means one needs to be moved for him to continue developing.

Dante Fabbro, Nashville Predators
Dante Fabbro’s emergence makes it possible for the Predators to trade Subban. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Fabbro is a right-shot, puck-moving defenseman. Ideally this means that if he’s going to replace someone in the current top-four it’d be a fellow right-shot, helping maintain handedness balance on the top two pairs. Ryan Ellis and Subban are those defensemen, and since Ellis just signed an eight-year extension and doesn’t have Subban’s trade value, Subban is the likeliest to be dealt.

Related: Examining P.K. Subban Trade Rumors

Lastly, there’s the looming issue of the Seattle Expansion Draft in 2021. Since Fabbro played in an NHL game this season, he is eligible to be taken in that expansion draft, leaving the Predators with their top five blueliners needing protected, and only able to protect three forwards. That can’t happen. They need to get that number down to four defensemen, and ideally it’d be three in order to maximize the number of forwards they can protect. That’s why, even though I’m a Subban fan, it makes sense to trade him.

An Ideal Return

The Predators’ biggest issue in 2018-19 was offense. They ranked 19th in goals scored and were last in power play percentage. Their top line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Forsberg accounted for 32.2 percent of the team’s goals and 26.1 percent of points. In the postseason, that line totaled two goals and four points as the team struggled to score, never netting more than three goals in a game. The second line was a black hole of production as Kyle Turris never produced the way he was expected to. Kevin Fiala’s development stagnated and resulted in him being dealt for Granlund at the trade deadline. Even after taking an exhaustive approach to fixing the second line, it’s still in shambles.

Predators center Kyle Turris
Kyle Turris’ struggles make it so that the Predators need to add a top-six forward. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s because of the second line that in any return for Subban there must be a top-six forward. Ideally it’d be a center who would replace Turris, likely to be shipped out this offseason. This new player would preferably be a goal scorer rather than playmaker. They already have playmakers and need a someone who could net 30 goals per season on a regular basis.

Related: Should the Oilers Consider P.K. Subban?

A winger could certainly work, but it would require either signing or trading for a center this summer or moving Granlund to the middle on a full-time basis. Either way, the player should be a scorer and needs to be strong at entering the offensive zone with possession. All season the team struggled at cleanly entering the offensive zone as Josi and Fiala were the only two who did so consistently. This resulted in the Predators often dumping the puck into the zone or passing it across the blue line on entry.

Financially, the Predators would love to emerge with additional cap space in any Subban trade. Any cap space that is freed up would allow the team to address other areas of need. However, I recognize that it’s unlikely a team takes on his cap hit without sending a large one in return.

Nashville Predators Mikael Granlund
If the Predators acquire a second-line winger, it’d push Mikael Granlund to the middle.(David Berding-USA TODAY Sports)

In my opinion, the Predators’ perfect trade return would be a top-six forward who can lead rushes and enter the offensive zone on his own. He would ideally be a center, but that’s not necessary, and it’d be nice if he were a left shot to break up the number of right shot forwards they have. I found six teams who could be good trade partners for the Predators in a Subban deal. He would help the other team’s blue line and that team would have an asset who could help the Predators. The teams are listed in alphabetical order and don’t reflect which trades I feel are most intriguing.

Florida Panthers

The Panthers have only been a couple pieces away from the playoffs the past few seasons. In 2018-19, they missed the playoffs after allowing the fourth-most goals and possessing the second-worst save percentage (.891). They clearly need help on defense and in net, the latter which explains their connection to free agent goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. However, they also need to strengthen their defense, which leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Yes, they have Keith Yandle, who’s an offensive threat, and Aaron Ekblad, who’s a great shutdown defender, but they could use someone who excels in both ends of the ice like Subban. If the Panthers intend to sign both Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, another player they’ve been connected to, there won’t be enough room to add Subban’s contract. However, if they only sign one, Subban should be of interest to them.

Subban for Jonathan Huberdeau

Salary Information: $5.9 million cap hit through 2022-23

For the Panthers to take on Subban’s cap hit, they’ll need to send someone with a big contract and value back. Jonathan Huberdeau is one of the Panthers’ best players and his $5.9 million cap hit ties for the team’s largest among forwards. His name was also mentioned in 2019 Trade Deadline rumors. He had a career season in 2018-19 with 30 goals and 92 points, and the soon-to-be 26-year-old is one of the league’s most underrated left wingers.

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau is an intriguing trade target for the Predators. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

And on zone entries, the Predators’ biggest need, he’s really good. In 2018-19, he entered the zone via carry-in 63 percent of the time. By comparison, only four Predators forwards had a percentage that high with Fiala leading the way at 80 percent. Huberdeau also averaged 23.46 zone entries per 60 minutes. Meanwhile, Arvidsson paced the Predators with 22.40 per 60. His 92 points are also seven more than any Predator has ever totaled in a season and were 28 more than Johansen’s 64 that paced the team this season. The Predators could desperately use a player of Huberdeau’s skillset and talent.

Subban for Mike Hoffman and Logan Hutsko/First-Round Pick

Salary Information: Hoffman – $5,187,500 cap hit through 2019-20 with a modified no-trade clause; Hutsko – Unsigned

If the Panthers are uninterested in dealing Huberdeau, there is still a trade to be made, with Mike Hoffman as the centerpiece. Hoffman thrived in his first season in Florida. He set career highs with 36 goals and 70 points and netted 17 goals on the man advantage, also a career high, all while not seeing a dramatic rise in shooting percentage. Another left-shot winger, he’d work great on Nashville’s second line.

Florida Panthers Mike Hoffman
Mike Hoffman is another Panther the Predators could target. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

He’s a pure goal scorer, something the team needs, but is still good at leading the rush. He entered the zone via carry-in 58 percent of the time and averaged 25.62 zone entries per 60 in 2018-19. The Predators need someone with his goal-scoring ability. There is the issue of Hoffman’s modified no-trade clause which allows him to submit a 10-team no-trade list, so there is the chance he’d block a trade to Nashville. But, because he doesn’t have Huberdeau’s value and his contract expires after next season, something else has to be included.

One option is Logan Hutsko, the Panthers’ third-round pick from 2018. He just finished his sophomore season at Boston College, but remains unsigned, which can be a risk. The other option is the Panthers’ 2019 first-round pick, which will be 14th overall.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils took a step back in 2018-19 after making the playoffs the season before. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as they won the draft lottery and will pick first overall in June. Part of their struggles had to do with Taylor Hall’s injury, part of it had to do with poor goaltending, and a lack of defensive scoring played a part. Sure, the Devils did great at suppressing shots and scoring chances, but as a group their defensemen scored 31 goals and 148 points. Furthermore, none reached the 40-point mark. Their only defensemen who are an offensive threat are Sami Vatanen, Damon Severson, and Will Butcher.

Sami Vatanen New Jersey Devils
Sami Vatanen is one of three Devils defensemen who are an offensive threat. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Subban could instantly change that, bringing a booming shot from the point and a threat to score on the power play. With $31.1 million in cap space for next season, they have plenty of space to add him and re-sign their free agents. His addition would also help protect against the likely departure of 36-year-old Andy Greene and the potential loss of Vatanen, both free agents next summer. Subban could also help mentor the Devils’ top defense prospect Ty Smith. The downside of adding Subban is that Severson and Vatanen are already right shots, and unless the Devils want to play two right shots on the same pair, one of the three would either have to play on the third pair or be dealt.

Subban for Kyle Palmieri and Pavel Zacha/First-Round Pick

Salary Information: Palmieri – $4.65 million cap hit through 2020-21 with a modified no-trade clause; Zacha – Restricted Free Agent, was on entry-level contract in 2018-19

Kyle Palmieri turned in his fourth straight 20-goal season in 2018-19 with 27 goals and 50 points in 74 games. Eleven of his goals were even scored on the power play. At 27 years of age, he’s a known commodity: he’ll net 25-30 goals per season and shoot between 12 and 14 percent. The issue I see with this trade is that Palmieri isn’t a puck driver. He only carried the puck into the offensive zone 47 percent of the time and only average 17.02 entries per 60 minutes. Palmieri for Subban one-for-one also isn’t enough value for the Predators.

Kyle Palmieri #21
Kyle Palmieri could help the Predators’ offense. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One option to be added is 22-year-old center Pavel Zacha. The former first-round pick has yet to live up to the hype in his three full seasons with point totals of 24, 25, and 25. He isn’t bad at entering the zone, with a 61 percent carry-in percentage, but didn’t do so nearly enough, averaging just 9.33 zone entries per 60. Perhaps the Predators can get him added to the deal in hopes of capitalizing on untapped potential, but they’d have to sign him to a contract for 2019-20. If Zacha isn’t available, perhaps a first-round pick, not in 2019, would work.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers are a team on the up and up. They may have missed the postseason by 16 points in 2018-19, but they’re a franchise littered with young players like Carter Hart, Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, and Ivan Provorov, and those are just the players in the NHL. In general they have a fairly talented roster. This includes a blue line that’s highlighted by Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, and Provorov.

What they lack, though, is a puck-moving, right-shot defenseman like Subban. In fact, Radko Gudas is their only right-shot blueliner, and he totaled 20 points in 2018-19 and is a free agent after next season. Subban would easily fit on Philly’s blue line and he’d offer some security as Samuel Morin and Gostisbehere are their only defensemen with contracts through next season.

Radko Gudas #3, Philadelphia Flyers
Radko Gudas is the Flyers’ only right-shot defenseman signed through 2019-20. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This is a team on the cusp of developing into a Stanley Cup contender and a player like Subban could speed that up. With over $29.9 million in cap space for next season but needing to re-sign their own free agents, figure out their backup goaltender situation, and potentially go after Panarin in free agency, acquiring a player with Subban’s cap hit will likely require the Flyers sending a large contract back.

Subban for Jakub Voracek

Salary Information: $8.25 million cap hit through 2023-24

That’s where Jakub Voracek comes into play. Voracek, who remains overlooked, continues to put together productive seasons. In 2018-19, his age-29 season, he posted 20 goals and 66 points, his third straight with 20 goals and 60 points, something no Predator has ever done. Okay, so he’s not the great goal scorer the Predators need, but few in the league are the quality of playmaker Voracek is. Could you imagine him replacing Arvidsson or Forsberg on the top line, moving that player down a line?

Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers, NHL
Even though he’s a playmaker, Jakub Voracek would help the Predators. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’d give the Predators two great scoring lines, something the league’s best teams possess. What he lacks in being an elite scorer, he makes up with his ability to drive play. He entered the zone via carry-in 62 percent of the time and averaged 31.49 entries per 60, the latter of which blows away Arvidsson’s team-leading 22.40. This trade is a great one-for-one in which both teams benefit and have their needs met.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins are a team in flux. Since winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, they’ve taken a step back and were swept by the New York Islanders in the first round this season. They still have elite forwards like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, however, the team allowed the fifth-most shots in the league and ranked 19th on the penalty kill.

They’re a team that needs to rebuild, yet a complete teardown seems unlikely as long as Crosby is around, leaving the team to retool on the fly. The team’s biggest problem is a defense where the only puck-movers are Kris Letang and Justin Schultz. Letang turned in an excellent 2018-19 season, but again missed time, while Schultz only played in 29 games. Bringing in someone like Subban would greatly help the Penguins’ blue line, even if it would mean having two right shots on the top pair.

The Penguins’ other issue is a payroll situation that leaves them with less than $500,000 in cap space for next season. Therefore, bringing in a big-name player like Subban means parting with a big contract.

Subban for Evgeni Malkin

Salary Information: $9.5 million cap hit through 2021-22 with a no-move clause

Evgeni Malkin is one of the more intriguing Penguins mentioned in trade rumors. Those rumors remain just that, and his name could have been included just to motivate him, but it’s still fun to consider a potential deal involving him. The one-time MVP and two-time NHL scoring leader had a down season (for him) in 2018-19, although he was still better than a point-per-game with 21 goals and 72 points in 68 games. He is a well-known commodity: he’s a future Hall-of-Famer, three-time 40-goal scorer, and has hit the 100-point mark three times. Obviously the Predators have never had a player like him in franchise history.

Evgeni Malkin Penguins
Would the Penguins really consider trading Evgeni Malkin? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The only things to not like about him are his inability to stay healthy with only two full seasons in his career, his perceived laziness and lack of desire to back check at times, and the fact that he’s never won more than 48.8 percent of faceoffs in a season. But he remains an elite offensive player who would immediately spark the Predators’ offense. In 2018-19, he entered the zone via carry-in 79 percent of the time and averaged 18.42 entries per 60.

To be clear, Subban and Malkin aren’t the same caliber of player. Subban’s a one-time Norris Trophy winner, Malkin is one of the best to ever play in the NHL. Yet, if the Penguins want to fix their defense with a top-four blueliner, it’s not going to be cheap. There is the issue of Malkin’s no-move clause, so he’d have to waive it to go anywhere, which makes trading him unlikely. Any rumors that have involved him were likely just to get under his skin.

Subban for Phil Kessel

Salary Information: $8 million cap hit through 2021-22 with a no-move clause and modified no-trade clause; the Toronto Maple Leafs retain $1.2 million per season

Kessel is one of the league’s more interesting players. He was run out of Toronto earlier in his career, and even though he doesn’t look like an elite athlete, he remains consistently productive. In 2018-19, he played every game for the ninth straight season and totaled 27 goals and 82 points. It was his 11 consecutive 20-goal season and his eighth total season with at least 60 points, something that’s never occurred in Predators history.

Penguins forward Phil Kessel
Phil Kessel may not look like it, but he remains an incredibly productive player. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Additionally, he may not look like it, but he’s an excellent skater and one of the league’s best at shooting in stride. His tenure in Pittsburgh has also helped him develop into a skilled playmaker. How he’d be of biggest help for the Predators is his ability to enter the offensive zone. Kessel entered the zone with possession 78 percent and he averaged 16.09 entries per 60.

There’s credence to trade rumors involving him and he was recently placed at the top of Frank Seravelli’s Trade Bait List for the offseason. Like Malkin, Kessel has a no-move clause, although he has a modified no-trade list in which he has to submit an eight-team approval list and can basically control his own destiny. However, with former linemate Nick Bonino in Nashville, Kessel may be interested in approving a deal.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs gave up the third-most scoring chances and high-danger chances at five-on-five this season. They entered the season needing help on the blue line, especially the right side. They added Jake Muzzin at the trade deadline, but he’s a left shot, and it left Nikita Zaitsev as the only right shot in their top-four. With Gardiner likely departing via free agency this summer, the Maple Leafs need to add a top-four defenseman. But, with only $5.2 million in cap space next season and needing to re-sign Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson, they can’t address that need in free agency. That means they’ll have to address the need through trade, and it will likely require them giving up one of their better forwards.

Nikita Zaitsev, Toronto Maple Leafs
With Nikita Zaitsev being the Maple Leafs’ only top-four right-shot blueliner, they need to acquire someone like Subban. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

I’m not the first to link Subban to the Maple Leafs. The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin connected the two in an article on April 25. Subban would work well in Toronto and wouldn’t be afraid of the media, having succeeded in Montreal earlier in his career.

Subban for William Nylander

Salary Information: $6.9 million cap hit through 2023-24

As the Maple Leafs are not going to be parting with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, or Marner, William Nylander is the most logical candidate. In Larkin’s article, he specifically mentioned Nylander and Subban in a one-for-one trade, a move that makes a ton of sense. For starters, the Maple Leafs simply don’t have enough money to keep all of their star forwards. And to acquire a top-four defenseman, they’ll need to part with a talented forward.

Nylander would be a near-perfect fit for the Predators. He can play down the middle or on the wing, and is quite good at playing center, which would solve the Predators’ need for a second-line pivot. He won 55.2 percent of his draws in 2018-19, and totaled seven goals and 27 points in 54 regular-season games. That’s not a large total, but most of his production occurred down the stretch, with 13 points in his final 20 regular-season games. He also posted a goal and three points in seven postseason games.

Toronto Maple Leafs' William Nylander
A one-for-one trade of William Nylander for Subban makes sense for both teams. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

He’s incredible on zone entries, carrying the puck in on 71 percent of them and averaging 22.74 per 60 minutes. He’s the kind of play-driver the Predators need. He demands attention in the offensive zone and uses his stickhandling abilities to gain space. He’d immediately be the Predators’ best forward, and at only 23, he hasn’t reached his prime yet. Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas may have said he wouldn’t trade on of his four big forwards, but one has to be dealt to free up cap space, and after Nylander’s holdout to start 2018-19, he makes the most sense.

Vegas Golden Knights

Since entering the league in 2017-18, the Golden Knights have done nothing but play incredible hockey. In their inaugural season they went to the Stanley Cup Final, and this season they lost a heartbreaking Game 7 in the first round. They have a forward group that comes in waves, including a top-six that is arguably the best in the league. They even have a strong blue line that allowed that sixth-fewest five-on-five scoring chances this season.

What they lack, though, is a top-pair, elite defenseman to head line that defense corps. Nate Schmidt is great and thrives on his skating ability and Shea Theodore is developing into a great player, but they could use a true top-two defenseman like Subban. He and Schmidt on Vegas’ top pair could be what it takes to push them over the edge. Plus, it’d unite Subban with his brother, Malcolm, the Golden Knights’ backup netminder.

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt
Nate Schmidt is a quality defenseman, but the Golden Knights lack a bonafide top-pair blueliner. (John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports)

Vegas’ biggest issue is their cap situation. They currently have no cap space available next season. They’ll be helped by putting $8 million on long-term injured reserve, but they’re still only able to go over the cap by 10 percent in the summer. And they have to re-sign William Karlsson. That means trading for a top-pair blueliner will require them shipping out a quality player.

Subban for Alex Tuch and Nick Holden/Brayden McNabb

Salary Information: Alex Tuch – $4.75 million cap hit through 2025-26; Nick Holden – $2.2 million cap hit through 2019-20; Brayden McNabb – $2.5 million cap hit through 2021-22

The Golden Knights have enough forward depth that Tuch is on their third line. He is the centerpiece of this trade because I doubt Vegas would part with Jonathan Marchessault or Karlsson. They may part with Reilly Smith, but Tuch better fits the Predators’ needs. He is coming off his second full NHL season and had 20 goals and 52 points. Having just turned 23, he hasn’t reached his prime yet and is developing into one of the league’s better power forwards.

Alex Tuch #89 of the Vegas Golden Knights
For Vegas to acquire a top-four blueliner, they’ll need to trade someone like Alex Tuch, who would help the Predators. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

But just because he has a 6-foot-4, 222-pound frame doesn’t mean he’s not a good skater. Quite the contrary. He is excellent at leading rushes and entered the offensive zone via carry in 65 percent of the time and averaged 21.73 per 60 minutes. He led Golden Knights forwards in carry-in percentage in 2018-19. He even finished with a plus-18 turnover margin. Given his age, the sky is the limit for Tuch.

It’s likely that any big trade the Golden Knights make this summer will require significant money going back, and Tuch’s $4.75 million cap hit wouldn’t be enough to take on Subban’s contract. With seven NHL-ready defensemen under team control for next season, plus the addition of Subban, it’s likely they’d look to move one of those blueliners. To me, it’d make sense to move either Nick Holden or Brayden McNabb. Both would slot in on Nashville’s bottom pair with Hamhuis, a role either would be perfectly suited for. Holden would be the better of the two as his contract expires after next season, but the Predators could take on either player and be fine. This is another deal that would benefit both teams.

The Best Trade Partners

Of the six teams I covered, I think the Maple Leafs, Golden Knights, and Panthers, in that order, provide the best opportunity for the Predators. All three would help the Predators address their need for scoring, while sending Subban back would help those teams’ blue lines. There is no guarantee that he even gets moved this summer, but the longer the rumors continue without the team shutting them down, the more likely it seems he’ll be dealt. I started out disagreeing with him being moved, but now recognize that it’d be in the best interest to trade him for assets that would address the team’s needs. But if he is moved, it has to be for the right return, like the ones I listed above.

*All stats and information comes from Hockey-Reference, Natural Stat Trick, and Corey Sznajder’s Public Tableau Charts